Environmental News Archive

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It's Winter But Where's The Snow?

Jan 12 2007

Unseasonal warmth in North America, Europe a result of El Nino, greenhouse

PARIS - Across the continental United States and Canada, states and
provinces reported above-average temperatures for December, while five
states in the north and east of the country experienced record highs for
the month.

With 2006 already entering the weather annals as one of the hottest years
globally, much of the northern hemisphere is also on course for one of the
mildest winters on record.

According to Swiss researcher Juerg Luterbacher, of the University of
Berne's Geographical Institute, Europe is experiencing an extraordinarily
warm start to its winter.

One of the drivers of this warm season has been the El Nino effect, when
the central and eastern Pacific warms up, say Mr Luterbacher and other

"When you have an ocean basin as big as the tropical Pacific which warms
exceptionally, that amounts to a significant part of the Earth's surface
which is heated. It's not surprising that this should have an impact
across the planet's climate system," said Mr Jean-Pierre Ceron, deputy
director of climatology at Meteo France.

El Nino peaked last month, but its effect is likely to endure throughout
the first few months of this year, helping to make what could be the
warmest year on record, according to Britain's Meteorological Office.

Mr Luterbacher said the records show that, in years when there has been a
strong El Nino effect, winter warmth in Europe is usually followed by a
sharp cold snap in late winter or early spring.

El Nino is a natural cycle that occurs about every three to seven years.
It has the potential to inflict severe weather on South America all the
way to Australia.

But greenhouse gases are also likely to have played a part in the warm

"Single (weather) events can't be pinned to a single cause, but the last
30 (European) winters at the end of the 20th century and the start of the
21st century were … the warmest, and this is quite unusual," said Mr
Luterbacher. - AFP